According to Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, attending eight different Jewish day schools before the age of 16 has some unexpected perks.
“It helped me be more aware and patient with different elements of the Orthodox community,” she said. “In one community, I was the only one wearing sandals without knee socks. In another community, I was eating an Entenmann’s doughnut in the corner at a birthday party because there was no other kosher food.”
Today, as the youngest-ever executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Weiss-Greenberg has put that patience to good use. Though progress for Orthodox feminism is not immediate, gradual change is lasting, she said.
“Would decisions made about the role of women in medieval times be accepted today?” she said. “If the answer is ‘no,’ change within our tradition is necessary.”
Weiss-Greenberg first exercised her role as a leader at Camp Stone, an Orthodox summer camp in Pennsylvania, eventually becoming its director. The experience gave her a peek into what a world of true gender equity might look like. At NYU, she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the experience of female staff at Jewish summer camps.
“Camp creates an alternate set of social norms, where leadership is balanced,” she said. “Women feel equally capable and responsible. It’s a setting I hope to recreate.”
In her relatively new role (she began in 2014), Weiss-Greenberg hopes to expand the JOFA’s reach on the local level. Out-of-town communities are increasingly making use of JOFA’s programming and resources. The monthly podcast, Joy of Text, already reaches thousands; frequent webinars and blogcasts allow hundreds to tune in.
Still, though Orthodox feminism is her job, Weiss-Greenberg believes that the work begins at home.
“My husband and I are very careful to divide up household chores and duties,” she said. “We’re equal partners.” Her two young sons know that mommy isn’t the only one who cleans and cooks. “We’re raising two feminists,” she said. “I want my sons to grow up in a different world.”
Discus-throwing champion: Weiss-Greenberg was asked to try out for the Junior Olympics when, in sixth grade, she broke the discus-throwing record at her school in Atlanta. Though she had a true talent, Weiss-Greenberg doesn’t regret giving it up to pursue a future in Jewish activism.